Truthgiver by Bailey Grams
The lights of the city reflected dimly off the water as Josiah’s tugboat drifted up to the outwardly abandoned ship floating in the harbor. He and his co-workers had seen the dark hull of the smaller boat appear bright and early that morning and had been watching it ever since. There was something eerie about its listless motion atop the calm, green water. From the docks they had kept an eye on her while the wake of other vessels changed her trajectory little by little as the hours passed by. It was when the sun started to lower and the workers were set to head home that Josiah finally decided that the ship’s time as a mildly curious spectacle was over.
Closing the distance between his boat and the mysterious craft, Josiah could better appreciate its sleek beauty. Or the beauty it must have had at some point. At first glance, the ship was small, all sharp angles and shiny metal. One might have expected it to look boxy or harsh, but the geometric planes of its hull produced the illusion of complex origami. Almost as though the boat itself was not so much built as gently folded into the shape that held it suspended on the salt water. On its starboard side, written as though carefully traced by hand was one word: Truthgiver. Josiah was so struck by the boat’s odd beauty that he almost didn’t see the warning signs.
The jagged hole rent in the top corner of the bow where a small figurehead might have once rested.
The five deep slashes dragging a slanted pattern from the edge of the deck to midway down the side of the ship.
The dark stain of oil smeared and dripping off the railings.
It was the oil that tipped him off; the heavy, sour scent in the air is something he’d never misidentify. It clung to the open air here just like it always clung to his clothes and hair after doing maintenance on his boat. The smell coming off Truthgiver hit him like a thick wall, much stronger than the vestigial wafts from the tiny splatters that often sprinkle his overalls after a few hours in the engine room. Josiah could recall a day a few months prior when he had been working on the docks. He had stepped backwards out of a storage unit holding a drum of oil only to trip over another one right behind him, spilling both along the rocks. Eighty gallons of oil lost that day and even that couldn't come close to the amount of oil draining down Truthgiver’s hull. His heart began to beat in a rapid pulse at his temple and he wondered, not for the first time, just what happened on this boat.
And while the oil made him wary, there was something else in the air that truly made him stiffen in shock. Underneath the almost overwhelming stench of oil was the coppery scent of blood.
A tremble started in his fingers and spread like a flame. It lit a wick through the rest of his arm, travelling through to his chest as he reached for the microphone to hail the other vessel. His voice stayed strong simply because his mind refused to let him dwell on what he was seeing. The night was clear, and yet his eyes seemed to unfocus, like he was looking at the road through a fogged up windshield. He could see only the impression of the ship before him.
“Big Bertha calling Truthgiver. Is everything alright aboard your ship?”
The response was as immediate as it was empty. Not devoid of meaning, but simply nothing at all. Though there had been no rush of wind, no physical indication of any change, it was like the air had been sucked out of the night. The water no longer made a sound as it lapped against his tugboat, the static from his microphone ceased, even the sound of his own heart beating was beyond the reach of his ears. Truthgiver called out to him soundlessly. More of a compulsion than any conscious thought. He pulled Big Bertha up alongside the sleek sister ship and took a step towards her railing, noticing mildly as he did that his whole body was shaking now. The passing thought of whether or not he would fall into the water flitted across his mind, but nothing except the urge to be on the other vessel would stay fixed in his brain for long. Josiah stepped mechanically across his deck until he could touch the ripped metal of Truthgiver. Though the other ship looked small, up close her thick, reflective railings loomed over his tugboat like heavy walls of ice. Standing up against the immovable planes of Truthgiver’s side, Josiah could feel the ship radiating an aura of superiority, as though she were sentient and laughing at his unworthiness.
He already knew he could not stop this progress, his brain was too full of the whisperings of the ship, and it only became more frantic once his hand pressed against the hull. He quickly found the rungs of the ladder bolted to the outside of the deserted boat. In his mind, he planted his feet and refused to move an inch, but there some outside force yanking his body forward into a feverish climb up the rungs. With his hands still trembling violently, the progress was slow but measured and uninterrupted. Sooner than he would have thought, he was standing on the deck of the ship, and even through the haze of his mind he could see the horrible, destroyed mess of it all. The roof of the bridge was deeply dented, its widow shattered. Shards of metal from the hull stuck up from the floorboards like razor sharp street signs. Stuck in the ragged edges of one shard, a thick piece of cloth waved like a flannel surrender flag. Over it all, oil was congealing across the smooth panes of the deck, splattered haphazardly here and there along the railings. And still the slight touch of blood remained.
He took in the deck of the ship with his horror growing steadily by the minute. Whatever was calling to his mind held fast to his consciousness and he began to walk forward along a clean portion of the deck that extended in an even and perfect walkway. He knew as surely as he knew his own name that this section of the deck had not been cleaned off or wiped down. It had just never been touched by the mess, kept spotless by whatever darkness wrapped the ship in its sinister magic. Josiah walked down the aisle to the dead center of the ship. A perfect circle of untouched ground met him there. Laying, untouched and perfectly clean, in the center of the circle was an envelope of deep red paper, so pure it was almost black. Pulled by the same urge that had led him from his own boat, Josiah leaned down and ripped open the seal. Inside he found a single sheet of white paper that shone like a beacon in the moonlight. It held four words:
THE REVENANT HAS RETURNED